Horror Story Review: "The Picture in the House" by H. P. Lovecraft
The narrator of this story is doing some genealogical work in 1896 in the Miskatonic Valley of New England. He found it more convenient to use a bicycle except this day, he got caught in a rain storm and turns to the first house he can find. He’s not even sure it’s occupied. It’s old and neglected, but none of the filthy windows are broken. His knocks go unanswered. The door opens when he tries it. He enters, bringing his bike with him.
Everything is the house is antiquated, hardly dating past the Revolutionary War. If the fixtures and furniture in the house were in better shape, they’d be worth quite a bit of money. The narrator finds a sitting room with some ancient books. One in particular catches his eye: Pigafett’s account of the Congo region, written in Latin, printed in Frankfort in 1598, and illustrated by the De Bry brothers. This volume tends to fall open to Plate XII which depicts a scene of butchery of human beings by “cannibal Anziques” followed by “adjacent passages descriptive of Anzique gastronomy.”
The narrator is fascinated by such a rare book, but suitably creeped out by the scenes of butchery. While he’s examining other books on the small library—a Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and a work of Cotton Mather, all of which seem to date to the 18 th century—he hears footsteps.
The occupant of the house, and old man whose clothes are closer to rags and whose ruddy cheeks are all but hidden by a white beard, greets him warmly.
“Ketched in the rain, be ye? Glad ye was nigh the house en’ hed the sense ta come right in.”
The narrator hears the ancient extreme Yankee dialect—one he thought was extinct—but doesn’t think too much.
This is true horror story, one of the type that is most often associated the Lovecraft. It begins by saying that those looking for horror often seeking it in exotic places like “the catacombs of the Ptolemais” but the greatest horror is found in New England. He blames this one the isolation and the Puritan tendency to “seek concealment above all else.”
Only the silent, sleepy staring houses in the backwoods can tell all that has lain hidden since the early days; and they are not communicative, begin loath to shake off the drowsiness which helps them forget. Sometimes one feels that it would be more merciful to tear down these houses, for must often dream.
Lovecraft is able to build a wonderful sense of dread and fear even before the reader is sure what there is to fear. As always, there is very little blood and guts. And the ending is just ambiguous enough. While this isn’t a pleasant story, it is engaging.
Title: “The Picture in the House” written in 1920. First published in National Amateur July 1919 issue. This is not a time warp. That issue appeared not in 1919 but in the summer of 1921.
Author: H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Last review: “The Fisherman’s Special” by H. L. Tomson
Last Lovecraft review: " Nyarlathotep "
©2015 Denise Longrie
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